In the early years of CAMRA, it was recognised that pubs and real ale were inextricably linked. Without pubs, there would be no real ale. It was an era when the pub trade was booming, so pubs were not in general under threat as such, and one of the main campaigning priorities was increasing the proportion of pubs that sold real ale. Much effort was put into producing pub guides for the various areas of the country showing people where real ale was available.
Beer festivals steadily assumed a greater importance, but their general aim remained to highlight beers that people might want to look out for in pubs. A change started to happen in the late 1980s with the rise of multi-beer free houses, where many beer enthusiasts started to drink in preference to tied houses with only one or two beers. Another change in the marketplace was the growth in new microbreweries, which found a ready market in the multi-beer pubs, and also got a foothold in more mainstream pubs through the guest beer clause in the Beer Orders. However, at this stage they were still in general only producing their own take on the beer styles already offered by the established breweries.
Then, beginning with the development of American-influenced intensely hoppy beers, things began to change, and this led to the current explosion of different styles and flavours associated with the “craft beer revolution”. More and more, the cutting-edge beer enthusiast would find little of interest in the general run of pubs, and a growing number of specialist bars and even beer festivals have sprung up to cater for the demand.
Although it tends to grasp the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the reasons for pub decline, CAMRA has in recent years devoted a lot of effort to pub campaigning. But the new-wave beer geek may well ask what is the point of trying to stop a run-down estate boozer being converted into a Tesco Express when there are cool new bars in the centre of town offering a greater range of beers than anyone’s ever seen before. They will fail to see any attraction in spending the evening in a pub full of old blokes drinking one or two regular beers from a fuddy-duddy family brewery and, from reading some blogs, they regard a trip away from the big city into one of the more far-flung parts of the country as something akin to a journey into Darkest Africa where they might have no alternative but to drink Wainwright or some boring brown bitter from a local farmhouse brewery.
Now obviously people have the right to pursue their own interests as they see fit. It’s not really something that floats my boat – as I said here, while I’m far from uninterested in beer, ultimately I’m more interested in pubs. But it must be a cause for concern that enthusiasm for beer is becoming increasingly detached from the everyday pubgoing experience of ordinary people.